Truth with Flesh on it

| Colossians 3:1-17

I. Practical Life molded by Eternal truth (1-8)

A. Raised with Christ (1, 2) “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ” completes the thought begun in 2:20, “If you have died with Christ. . . .” There, Paul asked about a pseudo-spirituality based on earthly practices and abstentions; here he sends our hearts aloft into the throne-room of the resurrected Christ. All of this is extended commentary on 2:12, “Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were raised up with him”

  1. The true and lasting attainments of true virtue—the spirituality of conformity to Christ’s exalted and a glorified humanity—are found above. They are not found in anything on this earth nor in any supposed rule or ethical standard that is generated by mere human philosophy (2:8). All of the advances that we make in genuine moral development must arise from the true righteousness of God as manifest in the Law and Christ’s specific conformity to it. “Keep seeking the things above.”
  2. If “raised up with Christ” and “things above” were not sufficient to point us to the perfection found in Christ himself, Paul gives particularly strong emphasis to the idea by adding “where Christ is.” He himself is above, the one mediator between God and man, “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5), “Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). We do not look to man-made constructions of spirituality but to the eternal sphere of pure holiness, now inhabited by a truly righteous man.
  3. Jesus, to whom we look, is “seated at the right hand of God.” Amazing! So recently non-existent as the Messiah, so recently non-existent as a son of woman and the final Adam, so recently adjudged as a blasphemer by religious men, now by indivisible union with God the Son seated in the place of power and honor and declared worthy of worship. Strange mystery that we do not worship the humanity strictly but the person who is indeed truly human and upon whose shoulders our transgressions were laid that we might receive forgiveness of sins (review 2:12-15). Jesus in our nature now seated at the right hand of God the Father and the one who gives to us the Spirit. “The Son of God” appeared “to destroy the works of the devil” and in this work of destruction “he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:8, 16). As Son of God his life cannot be taken, but as Messiah it can. And it was by his death as Messiah that the Son of God destroyed to works of the devil (Hebrews 2:14).
  4. So again, Paul insists, “Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth” (2). To what should we give our mental energies for a lifetime? To the mysteries that are above, to the life-changing truths that reside above, to the transformation that comes from seeking a clear mental and spiritual grasp of how Christ has been seated above. If one fins the planetary system exhilarating and looks at the virtually endless expanse of space as a mental challenge, then go the next heaven and look to the resurrected Christ with whom we have been raised for inexhaustible eternal truth and transforming power.

B. Dead and hidden in Christ (3). If we were raised, then it means we were dead. Indeed, as depicted in baptism, “buried with him” (2:12; Romans 6:4). He was buried because he was dead; we were buried with him, because his death was also our death. Paul testified, “I am crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). Thus, Paul set forth the simple relationship as a faithful saying, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11). So Paul went on to say in Galatians, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Since in his crucifixion we died, in his burial we were buried, then in his resurrection we live. Our life depends on his resurrection, so “our life is hidden with Christ in God” (3). There is no other life that is true life other than that eternal life resident within us now and to be all-consuming at the resurrection of the dead. Our life is ”hidden in Christ” because the manner of our existence after death, both in a “naked” state (without a body) and in a “clothed” state (with a body) is still hidden by mystery (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). With John we must say, “What we will be has not yet appeared” (1 John 3:2). It is all present in Christ in his resurrected and glorified state even as he is seated at the “right hand of God.” It is mysteriously yet gloriously and transcendently true, that “our life,” that eternal life for which God has made us (2 Corinthians 5:5), is right now “hidden with Christ,” the glorified and resurrected Christ, “in God,” in a mysterious glorified presence of the Son of Man in our nature in the company of the triune God.

C. Revealed with Christ (4) – Since our true life presently is hidden in the resurrected and seated Christ, what we shall be will only appear when Christ himself in his glory is revealed.

  1. We recognize on the basis of the revealed content of Christ’s redemptive work that Christ “is our life” (4). We are justified through him, acquitted of all the legal marks against us, fitted for heaven through the life of regeneration, and have a glorified humanity as the first-fruits of eternal life.
  2. “Is revealed,” means his glorious appearing when he is “revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire” (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8). Those who do not know God and have rejected the gospel will “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might.” Among believers, however, he will be glorified and believers will marvel at his appearance (2 Thessalonians 1:10). In his glorious appearing he will bring with him those saints who already have died and will change the bodies of those who are alive from corruptible bodies to incorruptible and glorified bodies and lift them to meet him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:52-55).
  3. This is the point of eternal blessedness that Paul is making—whether alive or having died, all saints will “be revealed with him in glory.” To set one’s mind above is to give oneself training for the life that will never end in the condition that will never end with the Lord of all. The redeemed will experience a double glory: the eternal self-existent glory of the triune God and the achieved glory of the manhood of the resurrected Christ. Glorified minds, in glorified bodies, living in a state of eternal glory.

D. Dead men walking (5-8). Paul has proclaimed very boldly, “You have died” (3:3). This is an event of punctiliar actuality-it has happened with certainty and finality. Though Paul was against superficial rules about merely external acts and amoral substances, he recognized the true nature of sin and gave relevant exhortation concerning the Christian’s fight against those things that are sin indeed.

  1. When Jesus as the Redeemer of his elect, “bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24), not only did we die to the curse of the law, but Jesus gave a mortal stroke to the damning corruptions of the heart. They will not be taken with us to heaven but will lie in the dust of death and have no resurrection with the body. Paul has said that while we were “hostile in mind” in pursuit of “evil deeds” Jesus reconciled us “in his fleshly body through death” (1:21, 22). This was done in order that we might be presented before him ”holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” Jesus’ work of reconciling sinners first of all was Godward, removing the “certificate of debt” that was against us, and second, altered the heart of enmity and hostility as a morally fitting complement to God’s decree of forgiveness and justification.
  2. Not only are we informed that we have died, we are told to put to death those lingering elements of the former life of rebellion and moral corruption. The idea is two-fold: we use all of our spiritual might to resist and render ineffectual those works of the yet indwelling flesh of this present mortal existence. It is no light matter but an active and determined and vigorous slaying of any rising of vitality in the flesh. Second, not only do we actively mortify such sin, but we consider it as dead as a sure result of Christ’s completed work. Set these things aside as dead, no longer the determining energy of life, but a sad spectacle of a disemboweled mass of arms and legs flinging about seeking to present some semblance of life, but on its way to complete incapacity. As my mother used to say, “It runs around like a chicken with its head cut off.”
  3. If not the rules of the Gnostics or the Pharisees, toward what do we direct our sin-resisting, death dealing blows of spiritual pugilistics?
  • All aspects of sexual immorality so rampant in the Gentile world as peculiarly and turbulently aggressive toward “the members of your earthly body” must be discerned for their destructive and false promise of lasting pleasure. All of these listed sins concern the violation of the commandment against adultery: fornication, uncleanness, passion, and evil lusts. The act of fornication—unfaithfulness to God’s intent for sexual pleasure in marriage—along with all the things that drive a person toward such an unwarranted and destructive use of God’s gift of sexuality should be mortified, outside the range of godly conduct. Jesus looked at this in the same fabric of act and its causes along with the need for deadly action against it in Matthew 5:27-30.
  • Violations of the first table of the commandments come in subtly as sinners place their affections on the possession in increasing abundance of material things. They become gods and the reality that “My God shall supply all your needs” through Christ is ignored. Covetousness is idolatry. Paul ties the two tables of the law together with this commandment (the tenth) “Thou shalt not covet,” here as he does also in Romans 7:7-9.
  • In verse 6, Paul gives no misty reason for isolating these sins, to which he adds others just below. Such sins, because they invade the prerogative of God and abuse his very purpose in creation bring the relentless descent of the wrath of God on the heads of those who maintain such a propensity toward disobedience. Unrepentant violators of God’s law have placed themselves under divine eternal wrath. These are the kinds of violations of true absolute law that constitute genuine evil.
  • In the practice of these sins the Colossians once lived (7), and now from the curse that breakers of these laws live under, the Christian at Colossae have been delivered. They no longer bear the wrath and no longer suffer their moral domination. “In them you once walked, when you were living in them,” Paul recounted concerning their pre-gospel, pre-truth lives. “But now,” such eternally significant words, since both the curse and the effectual domination of sin have been broken, “put them all aside.”
  • In the first list, Paul included sins one commits with the body due to a submission to prevailing lusts. They manifest the seeking of bodily pleasure for fulfillment of life. That list ended with “greed” or covetousness, as the foundation for such sins, which he likened to idolatry. He listed the sins and the isolated the source. Now he focuses on sins of the mind that that issue in specific sins of the tongue:
    • Anger, wrath, and malice describe successive intensifications of an unforgiving and selfish response to human relations. Anger is an immediate response to a perceived slight or insult. When this is nursed it settles into wrath, a seething self-propagating attitude of vengeance. Wrath then develops into a structure of devising retribution toward the supposed offender, a corrosive, scheming, and soul-destroying attitude called malice.
    • Malice then naturally leads to aggressive, hostile, and evil speech toward another person. We become slanderous when malice is our position toward a person. Slander, the effort to destroy a person’s standing by telling the worst, true or false, about him leads then to direct personal attacks that Paul isolates as “abusive speech.” Paul would agree entirely with the warnings of James about the tongue: “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. . . . From the same mouth come cursing and blessing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:6, 10).

 

II. God’s Initiative is the foundation for righteous human relations (9-17). Paul sets forth another sin of the tongue that seems to be at the root of all evil speech–lying. Lying betrays a disregard for the truth. Truth, therefore, need not be the governing factor in our relations with others so we abandon ourselves to vent our malice through any means of character assassination that comes to mind, whether it aligns with truth or not. Therefore, lay aside lying. The rationality of this command as a governing moral principle arises from the supernatural principle of regeneration.

A. Living implied by regeneration (9-11).

  • The Christian lays aside lying because, by the work of regeneration, we have laid aside the “old self.” That is, the self that was dominated by the sinful principle of the flesh. Among its abundant “evil practices” was lying that arose from a disregard for the truth.
  • By the Spirit’s moral power exhibited in regeneration we now have a “new self” (10). This newly created self takes on its identity through two closely connected formative factors. One, the disregard for truth is replaced by genuine, undiluted, truthful knowledge. This is a close personal knowledge of God and his character. That, in turn, leads to the second factor, a new moral and spiritual person in the image of the one who has brought about this new creation. As Adam and Eve were in the image of God in their estate of innocence, so those born again by the Spirit of God begin to reflect and increase in their conformity to the spiritual image of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit establishes just such conformity to the spiritual values that constitute holiness (Galatians 5:22, 23). “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24, 25).
  • Because regeneration is a grace that applies the redemptive work of Christ to God’s chosen ones, it comes without regard to any kind of status. Christ’s removal of the curse from his elect (Galatians 3:13) does not partake of any distinction but is applied without reserve or exception to the entire body of Christ’s sheep (John 10:11, 14-16). In Galatians, Paul taught that justification by faith, based on the perfect work of Christ means that in Christ’s redemptive work, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Renewal by the Spirit, therefore, is of the same extent and without distinction. The Jew and the Greek, the circumcised and the uncircumcised are born again in the same way, according to the same truth, by the same power of the Spirit. The Barbarian and Scythian, the slave and the freeman experience the same renewal of heart (11). Christ has died, his redemption is full and unreserved, and the Spirit’s work to place sinners in Christ so that the benefits of his death and resurrection become theirs (2:11-13). “Christ is all, and in all” (11).

B. Living implied by election (12) – Because the Spirit works to give this renewal according to the decree of election, that status as having been “chosen of God” has its implications for true knowledge and dynamic spirituality. Have we been holy, “set apart,” and beloved, loved before the foundation of the world and were we drawn to Christ by the Sprit after God had endured much wandering and sin from us? Then, if we are now to share the image of the one who has drawn us we must purposefully put on a heart of compassion. We must be filled with kindness even as God is toward us (Titus 3:4). Since we are saved solely by grace, we must put humility before us as a desirable virtue, and indication of true godly strength not weakness and indecision. God’s gentleness toward his elect, his “chosen ones,” is a marvel of infinite goodness and his patience toward us in our state of rebellion. That patience determines that not one elect of God shall perish (2 Peter 3:9).

C. Living implied by propitiation (13). What was the cost of forgiveness? Jesus absorbed divine wrath in our stead. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7); “In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14); ‘In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). The foundation of this admonition is the reality of God’s having forgiven us at the price of his eternal Son’s humiliation and bloody death—“just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (13). Such a cost evokes a spirit of forgiveness toward all, for none can offend us as we have offended God. If we are forgiven of infinite transgressions, then a profound grasp of grace will move us to live as forgiving people. If we have complaints against someone, forgive, don’t complain; Christ “bore our sins in his own body on the tree;” surely, we are up to “bearing with one another.”

D. Living implied by trinitarian love. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul put the showing of love as superior to all extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. Love is the “more excellent way” and “love never fails (or ends),” and love surpasses even faith and hope in excellence (1 Corinthians 12:31; 13:8, 13). In our text, Paul says, “Beyond (or above) all these things, put on love” (14). Love has a transcendent beauty and power in giving perfect harmony to relationships and in turn expressing that unity of spirit and unperturbed satisfaction in the person and well-0being of another. In light of the Paul calls love “the perfect bond of unity” (14). Love is a peculiarly powerful grace that is concomitant with the new birth: “Love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God, and knows God. . . . God is love. . . . God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:7, 8, 16). Love is the “perfect bond of unity” for Christians as they live peacefully, harmoniously, and encouragingly toward one another. That is because love constitutes the eternal personal moral atmosphere within which the triune God subsists in the same essence of deity and manifests perfect harmony of will in all eternal decrees. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit subsist in and jointly constitute the sum of all virtuous and moral perfections, love. We are called to reflect the unifying factor that is the oneness of God himself.

E. Living that is centered on Christ. – Verse 15-17 draw our attention to the Christ about whom Paul has written with such fulness and energy: They highlight the “peace of Christ” (15), the “word of Christ” (16), and the “name of the Lord Jesus” (17).

  1. The “peace of Christ” (15) is the peace that Christ has effected between sinners and God and thus also give peace of conscience. Having dealt with reconciliation as effected by the death of Christ (1:20-22) and thus establishing peace with God, Paul now presses that salvific reality to be expressed as a reigning principle in the hearts of each person in the church. If we have been reconciled to God by the death of his Son, then peace within the body of those so reconciled to God should be a matter of inviolable importance. If we value reconciliation as having given sinners eternal life, then the principle of peace should govern temporal relations in gratitude for the eternal benefit; “and be thankful” (15). This exhortation to gratitude begins a swelling chorus of calls to thanksgiving that Paul had introduced in 1:12 – “Giving thanks to God the Father, who has qualified us.”
  2. Living implied by the transforming power of the Word of Christ. (16) –
  • Christ cannot be disconnected from the word. This is either the word about Christ (preached by the apostles and their associates) or the word taught by Christ. Either way the word arises from the authority of Christ. Without the teaching of the gospel centered on Christ’s person as essential to the kind of work he did, we have no true and saving knowledge of God nor do we have any basis for heart worship. This word will show him as the eternal Son of God and the born-of-a woman Son of Man who fulfills the Law and the prophets. It explains about his pre-existence, his conception, his birth, his righteous life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his present intercession for his people, and his coming in power and righteousness to judge and to rule. This message of Christ must make its home in us in a superabounding way.
  • If the word of Christ so dwells in us, out of its riches will flow the wisdom (“with all wisdom”) that we must have if we are to give encouragement to others in the truths of redemption from sin and the hope of eternal life. When so saturated with wisdom, we may have both the humility and fitness to teach and admonish one another.
  • Even when we sing, teaching and admonishing should be the goal of corporate worship. Nothing should be sung that does not give true exhortation and instruction from Scripture. If they are hymns of “human composure” they must flow faithfully for the biblical text and be a “word of Christ.”
  • In light of the infinitely glorious and lasting gift given us in Christ, worship, teaching, and admonition, indeed, all things in word and deed, must arise from an overflow of “thankfulness in your hearts to God” (16). The word for “thankfulness” also may be translated “grace.” Grace in the heart looks both to the objective reality of transforming favor and power of the Spirit that has brought us to Christ and the experiential knowledge of grace that overflows in absolute thankfulness.
  1. In the name of Christ all that we do is to be done to the glory of God – Soli Deo Gloria (17). This Reformation theme is at the heart of the biblical revelation as the principle that governs all things: “And they were glorifying God because of me” (Galatians 1:24); “To the praise of the glory of his grace; . . . to the praise of his glory. . . . to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1: 6, 12, 14); “To the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11); “Now to God our Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4:20);
  • Christians should never have far from their mind that they have been bought by Christ and they are thus redeemed from the penalty and power of sin and have been given the promise of eternal life. All that the believer does, then, is done in the context of a new life here and a new eternity hereafter. In words and deeds, therefore, we affirm what Paul said in verse 4, “Christ, who is our life.” Anticipating his work of redemption, an angel of the Lord told Joseph, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins;” and at the completion of the work, he has been given the name that is above every name “that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow” (Philippians 1:9) and inherited a “name . . . more excellent” than the most exalted of created beings (Hebrews 1:4).
  • Through him, therefore, that is, through Christ we are consistently “giving thanks . . . to God the Father” who loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). Attributing all glory to God and an unbroken sense of gratitude to God occupy overlapping space on the seamless robe of Christian worship and are prelude to the occupation of heaven.